ANOTHER minister nominated by the Slovak National Party (SNS) is to lose his job. Environment Minister Ján Chrbet is the second SNS minister to be forced out over a dubious public contract in less than a month. Prime Minister Robert Fico announced on May 5 that Chrbet would go after failing to observe his ultimatum to disclose details of a controversial contract to sell emissions quotas.
The contract allowed a newly-formed company to buy Slovakia’s excess emissions quotas at only two-thirds of the price for which Slovakia’s neighbours Ukraine and the Czech Republic sold their own quotas. The prime minister said on April 25 that if Chrbet failed to publish the contract he would be asked to leave.
But on May 5, Chrbet said that he would not disclose the terms of the contract following the categorical refusal of the firm which bought the quotas.
Chrbet has been criticised for both the sale itself and his reluctance to disclose the details of the contract. The opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party has claimed that Slovakia probably lost tens of millions of euros on the deal.
Interblue Group, a company which set up and registered in the United States just months before the contract was signed, bought quotas to emit 10 million tonnes of gases from the Slovak state at a price of €6.05 per tonne. The Czech Republic and Ukraine reportedly sold their quotas at €9-10 per tonne.
“I am no longer interested in a minister who uncaringly drags the whole government of Slovakia into his departmental issues and thus also the governmental parties into affairs which belong entirely to his department,” Fico told a press conference on May 5, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
Fico also said that he was not sacking Chrbet based on a judgement of whether the contract was good or bad, something which he said still needs to be checked.
“I am sacking him because he failed politically,” Fico said.
Chrbet’s ministerial career has thus ended after less than a year. He replaced Jaroslav Izák, who was sacked after approving payment of subsidies to political contacts and supporters from ministry funds.
Neither the media nor critics of the deal have so far been able to examine the contract since Chrbet has argued that he needs the permission of Interblue Group to reveal its details. This is despite a law requiring all public contracts to be disclosed.
Radovan Kazda of the Conservative Institute, a think tank which is frequently critical of the government, said that there are some serious questions emerging over lack of transparency.
“Everything indicates that the sale really took place under non-transparent conditions, i.e. without a public tender or publication of the sale conditions,” Kazda told The Slovak Spectator. “This is indeed the least transparent way to sell a product which is owned by the state. In fact we can mark it as a corrupt proceeding on the part of the ministry.”
SDKÚ MP Ivan Mikloš said that not only did the sale lack transparency and that the price was too cheap but that the emission quotas were not sold to another state government even though some were interested in buying. Subsequently, Pavol Frešo of the SDKÚ published 17 questions in the media pertaining to the sale of CO2 emission quotas.
Frešo said that Interblue Group is a speculative firm.
According to the Trend business weekly, Interblue Group was registered in Washington State in the US in June 2008, shortly before the purchase of the quotas. The company’s website was created by Michal Šušoliak, a 21 year-old Slovak student at the Slovak University of Technology and son of Miloš Šušoliak, a representative of three companies active in the environmental sector, Sme wrote.